Mississippi Legislature focuses on education

JACKSON – The House and Senate education committees just completed a joint work session at the Mississippi Capitol. Over 4.5 hours, the committee members from both chambers heard speakers give reports on a Florida reading initiative, Mississippi’s teacher evaluation system and charter schools. Laurie Smith, Gov. Phil Bryant’s education policy advisor, also gave remarks to the legislators.

The meeting serves as a preface for what is expected to be a legislative session dominated by education issues.

Daily Journal Capitol Correspondent Bobby Harrison will have a story in tomorrow’s paper about the session. Here are a few tidbits from it:

• Charter schools dominated the discussion, taking about 2.5 hours of it. Much of that time included a reading of a draft bill by Rachel Cantor, executive director of Mississippi First.

• The draft that Cantor read mostly included language from last year’s bill that passed the Senate. It may serve as a starting point to this year’s debate. Among its provisions:

– The draft bill allows virtual charter schools but caps them at three total. It does not restrict their total enrollment.

– It allows charters in any district in the state, but gives school boards in A, B or C districts veto authority. The veto ability for C districts would expire on July 1, 2016.

– Private schools are prohibited from converting to charter schools. Public schools can, however, convert to private schools.

– Charter schools must have at least 80-percent of the under-served student population of the traditional school in its district. Underserved students include: economically-disadvantaged, academically disadvantaged, special education, limited English, at-risk of dropping out or not meeting proficiency standards.

– Charter schools must accept special education students.

–  Those applying for charters who also have charters in other states must show that their other schools have been successful. Those applying for a charter for the first time must prove their expertise.

– It calls for an independent authorizing board.

– The bill prohibits for-profit entities from applying for charters, but it does allow charter schools to contract with for-profit entities for any and all services.


• Mary Laura Bragg spoke about Florida’s literacy initiative, in which students are not allowed to advance to fourth grade unless they are proficient in reading. Bragg is National Director of Policy/ Implementation for the Foundation for Excellence in Education. That is the group led by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

The main components Bragg highlighted were that the program must include funding to train teachers and that students need to be screened from the time they are in kindergarten. Interventions must begin then, she said.

“Parents have a right to know as early as possible if their child is struggling and have a right to know what teachers and principals are doing about it.”

Florida also including funding for summer reading camps in every school district for the students who were not proficient in third grade. Those students then have an opportunity to take an alternative test. The state also created an institute at Florida State University to study literacy.

The state also provided literacy coaches to districts to help teachers better implement reading strategies.

• Daphne Buckley from the Mississippi Department of Education spoke about the M-STAR teacher evaluation model the the department is currently piloting in 10 schools in seven counties. MSTAR gives principles a detailed rubric to use when evaluating teachers. That observation would be combined with student test scores to provide a teacher’s full evaluation.

• Smith outlined some of Bryan’ts proposals including a reading initiative similar to Florida’s, quality teachers, performance-based pay (possibly using the MSTAR evaluation), ending the practice of paying teachers extra for advanced degrees that are not in the field they teach and early childhood education.

• One of the proposals Smith outlined included Bryant’s plan to attract more quality leaders. He’d like to see university set the minimum requirements for their education schools as a 3.0 GPA and a 21 on the ACT. Currently, the ACT score fluctuates between 18 and 21, she said.

Bryant is also proposing to fund 100 scholarships to high school students with a 3.5 GPA and a 28 on the ACT who would agree to teach in Mississippi for five years. The scholarships would also be available for those entering the university as juniors.

• The early childhood piece includes $3 million in the governor’s budget proposal for Mississippi Building Blocks, a private model that seeks to help private daycares improve their quality.